Parma 0-1 Milan: Pirlo’s 40-yard strike wins it
Andrea Pirlo’s wonderul goal gave Milan all three points at the Tardini.
Dino Marino used a 4-2-3-1 formation, although it was lopsided, as Jose Marques stayed high up the pitch supporting Hernan Crespo, whilst Angelo (usually a right-back) made his debut on the right of midfield. Massimo Gobbi played as a holding player with license to come forward.
Max Allegri went with a standard 4-3-1-2 system, using Ronaldinho behind Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Robinho. Clarence Seedorf moved into a deeper role on the left of midfield after having starred against Ajax in a more advanced position, so Runo Gattuso moved to the right.
The most notable feature of the game was how much time Parma’s players let Milan’s midfielders have on the ball. When Milan were building up play, Parma dropped very deep and tried to deny Milan’s front three space between the lines. This generally worked well – Robinho and Ronaldinho did little of note in that area, whilst the threat from Ibrahimovic came when balls were played over the defence, rather than into feet between the lines. Still, Andrea Pirlo and Clarence Seedorf were given too much time to play easy, gentle passes across the midfield, and Milan dominated the early proceedings.
Parma stand off
Parma were perhaps attempting to sit back and invite Milan pressure, before breaking at speed - as Cesena did to such good effect. But Milan were wiser than in that game – they didn’t commit so many men forward so quickly, with Gatusso being much more cautious when getting forward. The full-backs were also more reserved and yet simultaneously more of an effective attacking threat – they provided an option for simple, short passes from the midfield, but also made last-minute dashes on the blind side so get to diagonal balls played over the top. Both Gianluca Zambrotta and Luca Antonini got into good positions through this approach, but neither created a goal.
Antonio Candreva started off by almost man-marking Pirlo whenever Milan had possession, but this only seemed to lasted 15-20 minutes, before he started to ease off and let Pirlo dictate play. It seemed more likely that Milan would get the breakthrough from a Pirlo creating rather than scoring (note his ball over the top for Ibrahimovic against Ajax) but he was more direct than that – powering an utterly brilliant drive into the top corner from fully 40 yards. We should appreciate the strike rather than question the defending, but Parma were inviting long shots by standing off – a dangerous tactic when you look at Milan’s front five.
Hard to move forward
The problem with setting up in a counter-attacking fashion against a bigger side is that once you go 1-0 down, your strategy becomes much more difficult to make work. Milan now had less inclination to get bodies forward, and instead focused on keeping the ball in non-threatening positions. With Parma’s midfield playing deep, this was very easy, and Pirlo was the game’s pivotal player.
Parma’s best moves came when they got the ball to Marques, a tricky winger who liked to come inside onto his right foot, although was comfortable enough to get down the line and swing crosses in with his left. Crespo was playing as more of an all-round striker than might be expected for a 35-year-old goal-poacher, coming to the wings and dropping deep. Parma couldn’t get the ball into the Milan half often enough, however.
Francesco Valiani replaced Candreva in midfield, but Parma were not much better in the second half. They at least tried to press Milan more, and didn’t invite such constant pressure as in the first half. Still, this surely would have been a better tactic if used throughout the game, as Milan’s ageing stars (average age 30.5) may have tired late on in the game.
Parma started causing some problems by switching the ball across the pitch into wide areas, taking advantage of Milan’s lack of wingers to get their full-back forward, and putting crosses into the box. Crespo was always lurking but couldn’t quite time his runs to meet the crosses, whilst Angelo put an excellent low ball across the six-yard box that no-one could convert. But realistically, you’d struggle to find anything like a clear-cut chance from Parma’s point of view.
Milan kept possession well and closed down the game in the opening period of the second half, but then seemed intent on going for the second goal late on. This became all about the individual skills of the front three (and Pato, who came on and looked well off the pace) rather than good combination play. All four wasted good chances.
It was slightly surprising that Allegri didn’t seek to beef up his midfield in the final stages by removing a forward for an additional midfield player – Kevin-Prince Boateng replaced Gattuso rather than Ronaldinho or Ibrahimovic, whilst Flamini sat on the bench whilst Pato came on. This meant Milan were never sure of the victory, but Parma didn’t threaten enough to look like getting an equaliser.
Parma’s tactics were right in theory – sitting back and breaking at Milan is probably a sensible option. But Milan were no as naive as against Cesena, and were set up much better to prevent being exposed to counter-attacks. Equally, Parma were too intent on sitting back, and should have pressured Milan’s midfielders more. They also could have done with more rampaging full-backs, especially as they had no direct wingers to be concerned about.
Milan played well but the individualism of the front three is still a cause for concern. In tighter games, the use of just two forwards along with Seedorf playing a more advanced role seems a better option, but whether Allegri will be allowed to get away with benching two of the famous four upfront is another question altogether.Parma 0-1 Milan: Pirlo’s 40-yard strike wins it